P2P, Transparency and Fingerpointing…

A few months back when I was reading a sample of the feedback [enter 07-52] to the FCC regarding their “Comment Sought On Petition For Rulemaking To Establish Rules Governing Network Management Practices By Broadband Network Operators” solicitation it quickly became obvious that most of the folks that were complaining had little clue what they were talking about, and that every network performance and reachability issue ever experienced by the 35k+ respondents seemed to hastily be attributed to providers unjustly mucking with P2P and other Internet traffic. Of course, this generated more negative PR for the providers involved, and certainly increased call center volumes, which isn’t a desirable thing, but that’s not my point.

A couple weeks back a well-respected security and network researcher, Steven Bellovin, quickly made accusations that problems he was experiencing were likely the result of his provider attempting to manage P2P traffic. Today he redacted his comments when his broadband provider supplied a reason for outage (RFO), as provided in the pointer above. It turns out that the problems he was experiencing were the result of other issues in the network, and had nothing to do with the management of P2P traffic. If Bellovin can make such a misplaced presumption, anyone can.

One of the reasons the Internet has been so successful is because of open, any-to-any connectivity it provides. However, more and more, The End-to-End Principle is violated, either in network architectures, or within the network protocols themselves. Firewalls, NATs, middleboxes, things that synthesize DNS responses, etc.., all compromise end-to-end transparency and add complexity to the network. Application of Occam’s razor tends to immediately cast blame towards these shiny new boxes, at least from an end-user perspective, where little other information is available.

However, practically speaking, given the array of interests contending for Internet resources today (e.g., political, security, individual, commercial, etc..), much of the openness that traditionally existed simply no longer can, and this molestation of transparency is a necessary evil, that with ever-evolving security threats, IPv6 emergence, and more critical services convergence onto Internet infrastructure, is only going to get worse.

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